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As Torrey Smith's star soars ever higher, Ravens wide receiver remains down to earth

Team's top wideout leads NFL in receiving yards, but biggest impact may come off the field

October 26, 2013|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

Smith and the Orioles' Jones have become good friends and, in some ways, followed a similar professional path in Baltimore. Jones used social media as a way of interacting with fans and promoting his personal brand. Despite the presence of more established teammates, Jones also stepped out and became one of the faces of the Orioles, and a constant presence in the community.

"I think people sometimes forget that Baltimore is 64 percent black," Jones said. "They just see more Caucasian people at the games and they forget that most of the city is still black and behind the poverty line. But to have African-Americans in their corner, such as myself, Torrey, Ray Rice, the reality of it is all three of us grew up in similar circumstances. We all had our challenges. You have to understand how you can get out, and we've embraced it. Torrey has embraced it."

For all the time he spends in the community, Smith does much of his work outside the public eye. He shows up at schools unannounced to speak to children. He and his wife show up at events he learned of just days earlier through chance meetings at the mall or grocery store. Chanel encourages Smith "to chill sometimes," but he concedes that he has a tough time saying no.

"That's how you get people to support you," Chanel said. "You are there for people, and people are there for you."

In the aftermath of the Ravens' Super Bowl victory, Smith interned for Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, spending days answering phones and reading letters from concerned citizens.

"I was one of those kids that needed the support from the community," said Smith, who plans on getting an internship every offseason. "I understand exactly how it is now that I'm on the other side. Being here, this is the perfect city for me. I relate to these kids and every single thing they're going through."

Smith's coaches, past and present, have stories about his selfless nature. Former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen remembers Smith knocking at his office door and apologizing for not being a good enough leader. Smith was only a redshirt freshman at the time.

"You just don't find kids like that," Friedgen said.

Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler learned long ago in the NFL to take first impressions for what they're worth, but Smith has not disappointed.

"His star quality happens to be how he is as a person, how people are attracted to him as a human being," Hostler said. "That sticks out more now, because there are not a lot of those guys."

'Now he is the guy'

Smith's increasing popularity is evident in the crowd that turns out every week for his radio show; in the countless No. 82 jerseys in the stands at M&T Bank Stadium; in his partnerships with Baltimore-based companies such as Under Armour, Polk Audio and PointClickSwitch.com. He's also appeared in a national Pepsi print ad campaign with actress Sofia Vergara.

"His profile has certainly increased in the last couple of years with his success on field. A lot of that goes hand in hand, but what makes Torrey special is he just gets it," said Matt Mirchin, executive vice president of global sports marketing for Under Armour, which used Smith to promote its Harbor East store opening and NFL Scouting Combine Experience. "He's got an infectious smile, and he's really humble the way he handles himself in the media. It's real, and it comes across as real."

Smith has marketable qualities. His personal story is uplifting; he persevered through a rough childhood during which he took on father-figure responsibilities to his six younger siblings as only a young boy. He now has his own foundation that assists troubled kids, he doesn't drink or smoke, and he represents other local charities.

Smith also embraced a new look in April when he cut off his trademark dreadlocks. Lewis and director of player development Harry Swayne had encouraged him to ditch the dreadlocks a couple of years earlier, and eventually, Smith got bored of them. He said his decision to opt for a close-cropped look had nothing to do with wanting a cleaner-cut look for advertisers.

"He's become that face [of the team]," said Matt Saler, the director of sports marketing at IMRE, an agency that specializes in public relations and social marketing. "He brings his brand the right way — it's a mix of the stellar play on the field and his personal side off it. It's a marketing dream."

Rice and Flacco still have the best-selling Ravens jerseys, according to Matt Powell of SportsOneSource, a sporting goods research and analysis company. However, Robbie Davis Jr., the owner of the memorabilia shop Robbie's First Base, said Smith is the most asked-about player by fans who come into his Lutherville store looking to buy autographed footballs and 8-by-10-inch photos.

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